The Basic Rule:
Know your environment. If you're around people who are keeping their phones out and checking on some work-related or personal emergency, fine. Just as long as you're all clear on the fact that that's okay. Similarly, if you're in an internal meeting and everyone brings a laptop, go ahead and draft an email or two when your attention isn't 100% required. But, if someone is giving you their full attention, know that they deserve to have yours, too.
The First Thing To Know
Unless you are waiting for an urgent call that you plan to take outside, it's still considered bad manners to leave your phone out at the table. Yes, we do it all the time. But it turns out...
A mind-boggling 92% of Americans wish people practiced better etiquette when it comes to cell phones and other digital devices, according to this study
. What does said etiquette entail? Well, there's a lot of gray area. But basically, here's where you shouldn't take a call, unless it's an emergency: public restrooms (just don't take it out — it makes people feel weird), theaters, waiting areas, lines, gyms, coffee shops, elevators, trains, buses, and restaurants. If you do have to take the call, be quick and quiet, and try and step away, as quickly as possible. Yes, those seem like no-duh rules, but that's what makes them work in a real person's life.
Basically, don't text sad news or any serious work information, don't take for granted that everyone has unlimited texting, and don't freak out if someone doesn't immediately text you back (since you don't know when they will actually read your text). Also important: When you're at a movie, play, or other indoor performance, you can leave your phone on vibrate if you put it away, but it's definitely not okay to pull your phone out and check or send text and emails during the show. Everyone sees the glow of your cell phone — even when it's in your bag — and you know it.
If it's a work email, you need to reply within one business day, but sooner is obviously better. But the biggest rule here is consistency. If you normally reply to emails within an hour or so, but you're away for the day, set up an out of office. If you're in meetings all day, consider doing the same, or letting anyone who might urgently need you know that you'll be unavailable for a while. And if you're slow in replying, lead with an apology.